Joy, joy, joy and happiness – that was me back in February when I finally got to go to the Maeklong Railway Market and stand by the side of the tracks as a huge great locomotive thundered about three inches past my nose. However, that wasn’t the only fun bit about my day – because I’d actually arrived at Maeklong on that very train myself about 20 minutes earlier – and I’m in hundreds of holiday photos somewhere to prove it.
What is Maeklong Railway Market?
It’s a market located about 80 kilometres outside of Bangkok in an area called Samut Songkhram. As markets go, its more aimed at locals than tourists selling fruits, vegetables, household utensils and things you don’t really need on your holiday, but, what makes hundreds of tourists visit Maeklong Railway Market every single day is the fact that it’s held alongside a railway track. A working railway track. And eight times a day, upon the sound of a thankfully very loud horn, the stallholders pick up their produce, pull back the awnings that protect them from the sun and let the train come and go – literally inches from their faces, feet, neatly stacked oranges or anything else that gets in it’s way.
Now a lot of people have written about the Railway Market – they’ll tell you how you can go there on as part of a tour to nearby Amphawa or Damang Saduak Floating Markets, or that you can get minibuses there from Bangkok (see the note below on that one!)- but, not many people know that you can also get to Maeklong on the train itself and ride through the market. I know this because when we did it on our last trip to Bangkok there were no more than 10 tourists on the whole train (and hundreds at the market itself)- but it’s an absolutely brilliant way to see the market and really, really cool journey. And don’t worry, once you get off the train you still have enough time to wander round the market for a bit and take your position alongside the tracks ready for the thrills when the train makes its journey back.
I think one reason why so few tourists do it this way is that it’s really hard to find out information – it took me weeks of lounging in bed piecing together information from lots of different websites to come up with a plan. But, here’s how we did it in February 2017 – I can’t promise that all the timings will be completely up to date when you read this (it’s Thailand, nothing is set in stone), nor can I promise anything will run on time – but I can at least give you an idea of what to do and where to look. So here we go…
Your Journey Starts in Bangkok
As so many cool things do! Specifically it starts at Wongwian Yai Railway Station which is across the Chao Phraya river in the west of the city – note this is NOT the Skytrain/BTS station with a similar name, it’s about a 12 minute walk away.
The train you’re going to be getting on is going to take you to a place called Mahachai about 45 kilometres outside Bangkok. There are two trains in the morning – one at 7.40 or one at 8.35 – I’d recommend the earlier one for reasons we’ll come to at the moment.
In my normal, super organised fashion, I decided we had to get to the station super early to ensure we found the right platform, got our tickets (in case there was a queue) and so I could check, check and double check I was on the right train with as many signs and uniformed station staff as possible. Imagine my surprise therefore when our taxi driver dropped us here!
Yep, the line to Mahachai is a single track service. One train, one way, one platform, one ticket window in which you hand over your 10baht! Even I couldn’t get lost!
However, what a platform it is. There were vats of bubbling curries, monks talking alms, candy floss sellers, the odd stray cat – the 20 minutes flew by as we wandered about. I looked at all the exciting street food, The Boyfriend tried to take arty pictures of the train tracks. All to soon the train arrived and we climbed aboard.
The Train to Mahachai
I loved this journey. it takes about an hour but it passes through hundreds of tiny houses so close you could almost touch them (don’t, no-one needs to lose a finger on holiday). At every station there was something going on – a market stall, a soup seller, a stray goat wandering about. It was a great way to see parts of Bangkok you’d never normally get to visit. There’s no air-conditioning on the train, but the windows and doors are all open so it’s cool and breezy. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
When you get to Mahachi, you’ll be confused. You’re in a market. But no, it’s not THE market – it seems trains going through markets is a bit of a thing in Thailand, I suppose it’s handy for carrying home the shopping. I love markets which is why I suggest you get the earlier train, it gives you half an hour or so to wander about looking at the stalls and again, exploring an areas of Thailand you probably wouldn’t go to otherwise.
The other reason I suggest you get the earlier train is that before you get on the connection that actually takes you to Maeklong Railway Market you’ve get on a ferry….Oh, didn’t I mention that bit!
You see, the train journey to Maeklong Railway Market isn’t quite direct – there’s a river in the middle of it, but instead of putting in a bridge, the powers-that-be decided that they’d just get people to get off the train, walk round the corner a bit and jump on a ferry, then walk a bit at the other end to a station called Ban Laem. This is why it’s so hard to work out how the heck to get to Maeklong yourself – you’ve got to find three different bits of transport information. And the ferry was where my meticulous research had fallen down. For starters I’d assumed the ferry port would be right by the train station, or at least well signposted – but it wasn’t – cue panic, panic, panic.
How To Find the Ferry to Ban Laem
Thankfully google maps saved the day, but the simple description is, get off the train and walk toward it’s back, with the train still behind you, turn right and then first right again. Walk along the market until you get to the park. You’ll find Mahachai Pier on your left – just as with the train, there’s one boat going one way – to the other side of the river. It costs 3 baht and it takes no more than five minutes.
This also explained why I hadn’t been able to find a ferry timetable for Ban Laem anywhere – they just go when they are full. We waited about five minutes until enough people were on board hours and then puttered across the river.
The Train to Maeklong Railway Market
Once you get to Ban Laem, it’s about a 10 minute walk to the next station – again, don’t expect St Pancreas, it’s a few seats with a couple of shops and a lot of very sleepy stray dogs who will love you forever if you give them a crisp – and would probably follow you on the train if you buy them a snack from the man cooking chicken at the station!
To find it, walk straight ahead when you leave the ferry then when you reach the ‘main’ road turn right toward the temple. Keep walking toward the temple until you see train tracks ahead of you – the station is to the right at the end by the river. It’s a short walk, but if you’ve got time to kill, the shops have some interesting foods in them and it’s a great way to see Thai life out of any kind of major city – we stumbled across a dog playing with a pair of piglets friends that amused us greatly.
The train to Maeklong leaves at 10.10. It doesn’t matter where you sit – you’ll see the market at the other end from both sides. the journey takes about an hour and goes past some amazing salt flats – you’ll see piles and piles and salt piled up – but keep an ear out. When the train gets close to Maeklong Railway Market itself, it will toot it’s horn. That’s your sign to stand up, position yourself near the window with your camera – and put on your best smile as you are about to appear in about two hundred people’s holiday photos! All of whom are going – oh, what, I didn’t realise you could actually get here by train, that’s awesome.
And it was – I really don’t think we would have enjoyed our trip to Maeklong Railway Market as much as we did without coming in this way. It just gives a totally different angle to the experience.
Once you arrive (waving to all the people as you go through the railway crossing), get off walk to the back of the train and head down the tracks to check out the market and position yourself ready for the train to come back the other way. Note: it’s close. I’d seen videos but didn’t appreciate how close it gets to you – if you’re a bit nervous make sure you stand near one of the alleys that head back out to the street from the market, then you can step back a bit of the sight of a few thousand tonne bright red train about a foot from your face freaks you out. Check out the video I posted at the time. The whimpering noise is not me!
What Else is Near Maeklong Railway Market
Once you’ve pottered around the market a bit more, you can head off on a songtheaw to the floating market at Amphawa which is open at weekends. We didn’t have time as we had to get back to Bangkok so we just jumped in the next minibus out of there – it cost us 60 baht to get back to Bangkok and it takes about an hour. Note: the minibuses no longer travel too or from Victory Monument. Instead they go from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station also known as Sai Tai Mai which is a bit of a nowhere land. You’ll pick up a taxi easily at the bus station though. Apparently buses also travel to and from Mo Chit which does have a train connection to the city (but the Southern one was closer to our hotel)
Where we stayed
We stayed at a few different places on this Bangkok trip. Most useful if you’re going to Maeklong Railway Market is the Bangkok Riverside Condo which is south of the river and an easy 15 minute taxi ride to Wongwian Yai station – again make sure the driver doesn’t try and drop you at the BTS. They get a bit confused as to why tourists need the other station.
If you want to be in the centre of the city though, we also stayed at the Amari Watergate which is great as it’s walking distance to all the main shopping areas of Bangkok. Oh and the buffet breakfast is AMAZING.
Talk to Us
Do you think Maeklong Railway Market sounds cool – or scary? What other odditys have you seen in or near Bangkok that we might want to check out? Let us know in the comments – erm, keep that one clean folks, we’ve been to Patpong too!
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